Terrorism in West Africa: What the Attack in Ivory Coast means to Ghana (and to me)

beach paradiseAs so often these days, I got the bad news via social media. A friend has sent a FB message, I went on Twitter to see what it was all about and was shocked and saddened by the headlines: 16 dead in Grand Bassam Resort East of Abidjan.

When it was confirmed that Al-Qaeda has accepted responsibility for the act, I tweeted my thoughts and fears.

Sadly, it is not the first Al-Qaeda attack in the region. Hotels where multiple nationalities and the whole tourism sector can be attacked at once have been the prime target.

But this new attack was on the coast, it was in the bustling and growing direct neighbor Ivory Coast, it was so close to home, and that’s why this attack has already affected Ghana. We cannot feel safe here and that will imediately rub off on especially tourism, in the same was the ebola effect did. I am not saying the next attack will come to Ghana, but it is enough that it might. Travellers will prefer to not take the risk and the local economy will suffer for it.

My blog colleague Jemila also discussed the attacks and asked “how many more attacks before regional strategy and action?” and expanded with insight on many of these points and captured them all in this blog post. She wrote:

“Each attack that happens elsewhere shouldn’t just be an occasion to “thank God, it’s not us”. It should also be a “what would we do if”. Simulation and strategizing around different scenarios is key.

We’re in an election year – the lens of the international press will turn to us, we already have a large expat community.

How prepared is Ghana? What will we do – not just for expats – but also for those of us we won’t be evacuated at all cost?”

The question on how ready we are is interesting as we do not speak much about terrorism in Ghana, but we definitely also are not blue-eyed. The major hotels in Accra have for some time now increased their security check you and your car thoroughly before you can enter. Ghana has a system of police presence with barriers in all major communities and as tourism is a major sector, we have everything to win from keeping our guests safe. On the other hand, terrorism is now a global phenomenon and it has showed that it cannot be stopped just by increased security.

Just last weekend, my family went west on a beach trip and lodging on the very same beach strip, just a few hundred kilometres away from Grand Bassam. The same palm trees, the same tropical heat, the same crickets at night. It makes me sad that I now look at that time on the beach as a time of innocence and pure enjoyment that really cannot be recovered.

Despite what has happened, this attack means I will continue enjoying life, keep going to the beach, and walking about town. I will also continue discussing events like these with my students and with my friends across the globe. I will keep inviting them to West Africa! I will continue to work for a world where life is worth living for all.

Because what can we do? If we stop living, to use a cliche, the terrorists have already won.

 

Sunday Reads Nov 15

sundayreads

  1. How Ghanaian food changed my life.  “I loved the fresh grilled prawns and fish. Given my familiarity with San Francisco sourdough, I quickly grew fond of the steamed fermented corn dough known as kenkey, eaten with the fiery sambal “shito” (“black pepper”) made from pounded dried shrimp, dried fish, and dried chilis. The mangos were to die for. African yams?—?boiled, mashed or fried?—?easily supplanted potatoes, and don’t even get me started on the versatile plantain. The one-pot soups and stews comforted me, and I discovered the joys of colorful chili peppers hot enough to make my nose run.”
  2. It’s not the religion that creates terrorists, it’s the politics. “We buy into the radicalisation hypothesis because we want evil to be mysterious and other; something that has nothing to do with us.”
  3. On data poverty and New York Big Data. ” The release of open data, to him, is a powerful way to give New York City residents a sense of who they are, what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, as well as the strengths of their neighborhood so that they can work together to address quality of life issues. “Neighborhoods that don’t have data, that don’t understand data about themselves as a neighborhood, then they can’t begin to suggest to their representatives on city council, state and otherwise, the things that they need to make themselves better,” Ra Mashariki said.”
  4. When H&M came to South Africa and insulted every one. “When fashion blogger Tlalane Letlhaku commented on Twitter saying that “most, if not all your posters in store have no black models” and to “please work on that to appeal to everyone,” the response was “H&M’s marketing has a major impact and it is essential for us to convey a positive image”.”
  5. For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University. “Our concern involves the ever-increasing demands of academic life: the acceleration of time in which we are expected to do more and more. The “more” includes big tasks, such as teaching larger classes, competing for dwindling publicly funded grants that also bring operating money to our universities, or sitting on innumerable university administrative committees. It also includes the constant stream of smaller requests demanding timely responses, such as quarterly updates to funding agencies, annual institutional review exercises, and pressure on us as knowledge workers to stay on constant alert through the demands of social media.

Inspired by personal role models, Ory Okolloh Mwangi and Chris Blattman, I want to share articles I read with my followers on a somehow regular basis. I hope to make Sunday Reads a weekly feature to be shared here and on Twitter!

My Experience of 9/11 2001 in the US (and a Book)

Book cover for "Life After Sept 11th, 10 stories from New York" by Marianne Lentz

Some time ago, my Rotary Scholarship mate from my year in the US, got in touch. We met in 2001 at Reinhardt College in Georgia, US. She is now a journalist and was doing research for a book about the aftermath of September 11th 2001. She wanted me to tell her what I remembered from that day. This is the text I sent her:

“I woke up in my dorm room in the morning of 9/11. It was an ordinary day and after taking a shower I reviewed my Spanish homework. As I was sitting on my bed doing that, I suddenly hear my roommate Michele screaming and run over to her. She has the TV on and screams as she points to the set. As we are watching we see the smoke coming out from the first of the two World Trade Center towers and a distraught speaker voice talks about a second plane and we watch in amazement as that plane hits the second tower.

She has already her phone in hand and calls her mother in Uruguay and hostfamily – the hostfather works in the WTC…I run back into my room as I hear my phone ring, its my hostdad. I dont remember if he is trying to calm me or himself down, but  he is letting me know he believes “it is Bin Laden who is behind all this”. It is the first time I hear the name.

Before I am off to class, the news reaches us that also Pentagon in Washington DC has been hit. As I have a friend living in DC, I want to hear she’s alright. I phone her, but cannot get through. A few moments later the news presenters on TV urges the public to stop calling friends and relatives to allow for the phone lines to be used by emergency workers. I feel pretty stupid.

In Spanish class, we talk about what happened and in a later class we stand in a circle holding hands in silence. I channel my confusion and sadness over the events by walking around campus taking pictures of the nature. (I can look for the pics if you think they would be interesting for you, but I dont think thery were very special) During the day, we realize that also Atlanta, a mere 45 minutes away, and its headquarters for CNN and Center of Disease Control are possible targets. The threat creeps closer.

Already the same afternoon, American flags are hanging out from many windows. Over the next weeks, we will fear that our drinking water has been poisoned, that antrax can be sent to our mailboxes and that the terror can strike at any time again. At this time, I had spent only one month in the US, but could still clearly feel that this day had changed everything.”

Today Marianne Lentz’s book is out. It ended up being an interview book with 10 New Yorkers, their memories of that dreadful day and how it impacted on their lives. It’s currently only available in her native Danish, but hopefully soon in English too. I’m proud of you, Marianne!

>Dramatic Week: Nigerian Terrorist, Togolese Team Attacked and Oil Curse

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This week passed really quickly.

I went back to work, now preparing for the spring semester. I had one friend leaving town (bye Uli!) and one coming back (Hi Tuuli!). It is somehow a big relief that the holidays are over and regular life and routines are back.

But as my personal life settled down, there were some shocking news this week that I’d like to comment on.

The Nigerian Terrorist
As I am sure you heard, a man was caught on board a plane from Amsterdam to Detroit, US with explosives. Some curious facts about this incident was that he was on the list of terrorists, the 550,000 names long list. I guess that list was too long, but that wasn’t my point. He hid the explosives in his underpants and is therefore now called the “underpants bomber”, but that wasn’t my point. He was from Nigeria and started his journey in Ghana, but that wasn’t my point either. Yesterday, in a discussion someone said American medias found it suspicious the terrorist bought his ticket in cash. Ha! Last time I bought a plane ticket in Ghana I t-r-i-e-d to pay with a credit card, but was refused. It seems like it is a forgotten fact that many parts of the world runs stricktly on cash. There are many other things to say about this thing, but I’ll leave that to my fellow bloggers Oluniyi and Obed.

The Attack on the Togolese Soccer Team
The African Cup of Nations that is supposed to take off tomorrow, Sunday, got to a horrible start when the Togo national team was attacked in DRC Congo on their way to Angola. The bus driver was killed and at least two players plus two other people were injured, according to the BBC. They were supposed to play Ghana for their first match, but the team do not know yet if they can play the tournament at all. This was the main discussion yesterday night and our sympathies go out to our neighbors in Togo!

Investigations into the Ghanaian Oil Sector
The first investigations (?) into Ghana’s new oil sector might lead to prosecution according to the Attorney General, Betty Mould Iddrisu. Fear has been raised many times that the financial blessings that come with a big oil find, might be a curse leading to the rich getting richer…Let’s see, this investigation might be good news?

Hoping for less drama next week.

Pic: Closing the door to this week and stepping out into the next.